Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke frankly for nearly an hour late Thursday night amid growing concerns over a Russian troop build-up near Ukraine, a crisis that has deepened as the Kremlin tightened its demands for border security guarantees and tested hypersonic missile launches to highlight your requirements.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser said Biden reiterated the US threat of new sanctions against Russia in the event of an escalation or invasion, to which Putin responded with his own warning that such a US move could lead to a complete severing of ties.
“It would be a colossal mistake that would entail serious consequences,” said Yuri Ushakov. He added that Putin told Biden that Russia would act like the US if offensive weapons were stationed near US borders.
Biden and Putin to speak on Thursday amid tensions in Ukraine
White House officials said the leaders agreed that there are areas in which both sides can make significant progress, but that there are also differences that may not be possible to resolve.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden “called on Russia to reduce tensions with Ukraine” and “made it clear that the United States, its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia continues to invade Ukraine.”
Putin requested the call, the second for leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior US and Russian officials on January 9 and 10 in Geneva. The Geneva talks will be followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on January 12 and talks at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on January 13.
White House officials said Thursday’s call lasted 50 minutes and ended after midnight in Moscow.
Russia has made it clear that it wants a written commitment that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance’s military equipment will not be deployed in former Soviet republics, demands that the Biden administration rejected.
Biden told Putin that the diplomatic route remains open, even as the Russians have moved an estimated 100,000 troops into Ukraine and Kremlin officials have raised their voices for new US and NATO guarantees.
Biden warns Putin that Russia will pay a “terrible price” if it invades Ukraine
White House officials said Biden had made it clear that the US was prepared to cause serious economic damage through sanctions if Putin decided to take military action in Ukraine.
Ushakov said Putin reacted sharply.
Putin “noted that this would be a mistake, which our ancestors would have considered a serious mistake. Over the past 30 years, many mistakes have been made, and in this situation it would be better to avoid even more such mistakes, ”Ushakov said.
Russia’s claims are to be discussed in the Geneva talks, but it remains unclear what Biden is prepared to offer Putin in exchange for defusing the crisis.
Moscow’s draft security documents call for NATO to deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states and scale back its military operations in Central and Eastern Europe.
The United States and its allies have refused to provide Russia with the guarantees Putin wants for Ukraine, citing the NATO principle that membership is open to any eligible country. However, they agreed to hold talks with Russia to address its concerns.
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Moscow’s security proposal raised the question of whether Putin is making unrealistic demands in anticipation of a Western refusal that would give him a pretext to invade.
Stephen Pifer, who served as the US ambassador to Ukraine in the Clinton administration, said the Biden administration could tackle some elements of Russia’s draft document if Moscow is serious about negotiating.
Meanwhile, key NATO members have made it clear that they have no appetite for expanding the alliance in the near future. The US and its allies may also be receptive to the language in the draft document by the Russians calling for the creation of new consultative mechanisms such as the NATO-Russia Council and the NATO-Russia hotline.
“The proposed ban on any NATO military activity in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus or Central Asia is excessive, but some measures to limit military exercises and actions on a reciprocal basis may be possible,” said Pifer, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution wrote the analysis for a Washington think tank.
Biden and Putin, who met in Geneva in June to discuss a series of tensions between the US and Russia, are not expected to participate in January’s talks.
Ukraine demonstrates US military equipment and promises to rebuff Russia
Russia tested Zircon hypersonic missiles last week. It is a provocative move that, according to Russian officials, should have helped make Russia’s pursuit of security guarantees “more compelling.” This marks the first time the Zircon missiles have been fired in salvo, signaling the completion of tests before the new missile enters service with the Russian Navy next year and will be armed with its cruisers, frigates and submarines.
Earlier this month, US intelligence determined that Russia is planning a possible military offensive that could begin as early as 2022, but Putin has yet to determine whether he should continue.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Thursday that his country believes there is no immediate threat of a major Russian invasion.
“Our experts say that the Russian Federation simply cannot physically organize a large-scale invasion of our territory,” Danilov said. “There is a preparation time.”
This week, the U.S. military conducted reconnaissance flights into Ukrainian airspace, including a flight on Thursday in a U.S. Air Force E-8C JSTARS, said Chuck Pritchard, a spokesman for U.S. European Command. This aircraft is equipped for reconnaissance of ground forces.
Pritchard said such flights with European allies are “regularly”.
Putin calls for immediate Western action on Ukraine
Russia denied any intention of launching an invasion and, in turn, accused Ukraine of hatching plans to try to take back control of territories held by Moscow-backed insurgents by force. Ukraine dismissed the claim.
At the same time, Putin warned that Moscow will have to take “adequate military-technical measures” if the West continues its “aggressive” course “on the doorstep of our home.”
As Biden prepared to negotiate with Putin, the administration also sought to emphasize its commitment to Ukraine and to declare that Washington is committed to the “principle of nothing about you without you” when shaping policies that affect European allies. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.
Putin’s past military incursions have a huge impact.
Biden and Putin rarely discuss rising tensions in Ukraine
In 2014, Russian troops entered the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and seized territory from Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was one of the darkest moments for President Barack Obama on the international stage.
US-Russia relations were severely damaged towards the end of President George W. Bush’s rule following Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia in 2008 after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his troops to enter the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Biden, who spends a week in his home state of Delaware, spoke to Putin from his home near Wilmington. The White House circulated a photograph of the president talking to the Russian leader from a table lined with family photographs.
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